UNISONScotland www
This is our archive website that is no longer being updated.
For the new website please go to
Click here
Home News About us Join Us Contacts Help Resources Learning Links UNISON UK


Community Budgeting

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive's Consultation Document on Local Services and Community Engagement

June 2002


UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in the public sector. Our members are employed in local government, the health service, care services, water authorities, and in the voluntary sector. We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Executive's consultation document on Community Budgeting.

UNISON is sceptical of the whole concept of Community Budgeting. As our response goes on to explain, we have concerns that Community Budgeting simply confuses local government and community objectives, and diverts resources away from front-line services. We are committed to the social inclusion agenda, and to reforming public services and revitalising local democracy. Yet we believe that Community Budgeting does nothing to forward these goals. Rather than being distracted by Community Budgeting, we believe the Executive should be focussing on strengthening local government, improving publicly delivered public services, and re-engaging local communities with responsive local government.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive on Community Budgeting. It should be viewed in context with our responses to previous local government consultations.


  1. Community Budgeting
  2. UNISON Scotland very much welcomes the Scottish Executive's commitment to "improving public services and ensuring that services offer people and communities what they want and need". As the largest public sector union in Scotland, UNISON shares these Executive ambitions. Our members are at the front line of delivering public services, and as users of these services, are well placed to comment on how we can improve services and make them more flexible and responsive to the needs of the community.

    We welcome initiatives to encourage local authorities to facilitate the community planning process by engaging community and voluntary sectors. Other key players should also be encouraged to become involved in Community Planning, including trade unions. In the interests of accountability and transparency, local authorities should take the lead role in Community Planning.

    However, UNISON is not convinced that Community Budgeting is the answer to improving public services in Scotland. We believe that a whole raft of issues need to be addressed which are directly linked to improving local services, and to re-engaging local communities. Community Budgeting merely blurs the picture, and will not address the root of the problems surrounding local services and community engagement.


  3. Accountability and Transparency
  4. UNISON is sceptical of the moves towards Community Budgeting. We are not clear whether this is just a paper exercise, to monitor how and where money is being spent, or if this involves re-allocating funds in a different manner. Both of these scenarios raise problems of the accountability and transparency of the Community Budgeting process.

    If Community Budgeting just means a "taking stock" exercise looking at where resources are being allocated, we fear that this provides yet more opportunities for the re-announcing of finances for projects, confusion over where the cash is coming from, and double counting of money. We believe that the government will not be as accountable for resources in Community Budgeting as there is a lack of structure and responsibility in the whole process.

    If Community Budgeting means there will be a re-allocation of money, we have real concerns that this will be diverting resources away from local government to fund projects, which may be worthwhile, but not as essential as front-line services. The vague and disparate manner in which Community Budgeting is being formulated means that there is a lack of accountability in the whole process, which is most alarming, and contradicts the Executive's commitment to openness and transparency.


  5. Democracy and Decision-Making
  6. Local Government is an elected body - councillors are responsible to local communities through the ballot box. In Community Budgeting voluntary groups or community partnerships are not accountable to anyone. People go out to elect local councillors to take decisions for them, and it is doubtful if the general public is interested in getting involved in partnerships or community bodies to take these sorts of decisions themselves. Councillors and their officials are elected or employed to look at the wider picture, to consider and evaluate all of the competing demands on their communities. UNISON is concerned that in Community Budgeting no-one is in over-all control, and partnerships are open to the whims or narrow interests of individuals or minority groups, with no democratic checks or balances in place.

    In addition it should be noted how local government differs from other government bodies, such as non-departmental public bodies, health boards, and Scottish Enterprise, in how it is directly elected and accountable to that electorate, where as NDPBs are operated by appointees who are accountable to the Executive. Local government is accessible and accountable because of this, operating closely to the principles of subsidiarity.


  7. The Role of Local Government
  8. UNISON believes that by focussing on Community Budgeting the Executive is not addressing the real issues behind community engagement, social inclusion and responsive local services. Rather we should be addressing the role of local government in the 21st Century, to appropriately consider community engagement and involvement in service delivery.

    We believe that one major reason why communities appear dis-engaged from each other and the local government processes is because local government is not currently strong or effective enough to engage them. Local government has to be made relevant to people and local communities. UNISON is clear that by reforming local government, strengthening the system of financing local government, and investing in public services, we will go some way to re-engaging communities with local government.

    [UNISON has commented on these issues in our response to the Parliament's Local Government Committee Inquiry into Local Government Finance, in our response to Local Government Committee on the Budget for 2003-03, and in our responses to the Executive's consultations on Local Government. The recently published Local Government Bill goes some way to strengthening local government, and UNISON will submit responses to this consultation in due course.]

  9. Strengthening Local Government Finances
  10. An adequately resourced local government system could better connect with local communities and respond more directly to local needs. We fear that the whole Community Budgeting agenda is merely warm words with little substance. Providing proper funding for the voluntary sector, and ensuring that local government and health and care services are well resourced is a much better, more democratic, and open way of achieving the same goals of engaging communities and providing responsive services for communities.


  11. The Role of PFI
  12. UNISON has consistently opposed the use of PFI and private sector involvement in the delivery of public services. We believe PFI and PPPs remove accountability and transparency from local government services, PFI projects are not able to respond to local communities, they are shrouded in secrecy, and the profit-making element contradicts with the partnership and renewal agenda of Community Budgeting. Privatisation undermines the fabric and ethos of our public services. Local services should be democratically controlled delivered by properly trained and rewarded public service teams. It seems ironic on the one hand that the Executive is supporting community involvement and participation through Community Budgeting, but on the other, they are promoting PFIs which take away democracy and public scrutiny from the delivery of local services.


  13. Power of Well Being
  14. The proposals to introduce the Power of Well Being to local authorities is most welcome. However, this power will only be of use if local authorities are able to exercise it fully and appropriately. Equally, it will only make a difference if local authorities have the resources so as they are able to make a difference. This Power of Well Being should supersede any need for Community Budgeting, as local authorities are in effect being empowered to act in the interests of their communities.


  15. Improving Democracy
  16. UNISON supports the aims of Community Budgeting to develop a greater local understanding of and engagement with the delivery of services. However, we believe that this goal could be best achieved by strengthening democracy and adopting many of the recommendations of the Kerley Report. In particular a reform of the voting system would be a massive step towards re-connecting local communities with their elected representatives. UNISON supports the Kerley Commission's recommendations for a system of Proportional Representation where councillors retain a link between a geographical constituency. Reform of the voting system could reinvigorate local government, improve the representation of women, young people and minority ethnic people within local government, thus making local government more representative of local communities.


  17. Community & Voluntary Services
  18. We welcome the clear recognition of the role of the Community and Voluntary Sector in delivering public services, by the publication of this consultation document. However, there are still many issues surrounding the "third sector" that remain unanswered for us.

    First, we are concerned that the age-old problems of resourcing and accountability are not being tackled. Funding for community and voluntary groups has always been at risk and there seems to be no proposals to counter this. It is clear that the Community and Voluntary Sector is an important deliverer of public services. This should be recognised by the Executive, by local authorities and other funders with a more long term funding structure. This will require funding bodies themselves to have their resources adequately maintained.

    Second, the Community and Voluntary Sector should also be involved in the discussion on service needs and priorities. To that end they should be major players in partnership discussions and planning. However, for UNISON, the proposals on Community Budgeting do not quite go far enough, as we firmly believe that the Community and Voluntary Sector should also be accountable to the local communities they serve.


  19. Commission on Social Need and Public Finances

UNISON's Scottish Council last year supported the establishment of a Short Life Commission on Social Need and Public Finances. We believe that this body could more appropriately debate how we make local government more responsive, and how local government addresses the range of pressures and demands to meet local needs. We envisage that such a Commission would harness the resources of Trade Unions, academics, the voluntary sector and campaigning organisations, along with representatives of local government.


For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary

UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


top of page

Responses Index . Home